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Last Updated: Wednesday, 3 September, 2003, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
India jet deals faced sabotage
By Rick Fountain
BBC reporter at the National Archives at Kew

MiG-21 fighter jet as used by the Indian Air Force
India opted for MiGs in the 1960s
India's decision to award a huge jet contract to the UK comes just days after news emerged of British and US efforts to sabotage Indian defence deals in the Cold War.

Official papers released last month in London show how the UK and the United States tried to derail India's attempts to equip its air force with Soviet warplanes.

A top-secret dossier from the Dominions Office, released in 1962, reveals that President John Kennedy offered to arrange covert payments of several million dollars to Britain, to underwrite part of the cost of a British alternative to the Soviet MiG-21s.

But the plot ended in failure.

'Spoiling offer'

Forty-one years ago, India's relations with the Soviet Union were warming up, much to the anxiety of President Kennedy and the UK Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan.

The snag was that the price tag on the Russian planes was only about a third of the cost of the Lightnings, and Britain could not afford to pay the difference
Their fears of an extension of Soviet influence in South Asia were heightened by reports that some senior figures in Delhi wanted India to buy Soviet MiG-21s, then a state-of-the-art fighter aircraft.

Kennedy and Macmillan set out to thwart the deal.

They secretly agreed that the UK - India's traditional supplier of military hardware - should offer Delhi a squadron of English Electric Lightnings at a price comparable to that set by the Soviets for the MiG-21s.

The snag was that the price tag on the Russian planes was only about a third of the cost of the Lightnings, and Britain could not afford to pay the difference.

So, as the file reveals, Mr Kennedy offered to pay, in secret, up to three-quarters of the cost.

In a message to Macmillan, Kennedy spoke of "our spoiling offer to the Indians" and said he hoped India would end up delaying indefinitely any purchase of supersonic aircraft.

China tension

President Kennedy's hope, in July, that Delhi could be lulled into a long period of indecision was rudely shattered three months later, when Chinese forces seized part of India's north-eastern border territory.

Hostilities were soon over, but India was stung into quickly beefing up its air force.

The Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, announced that India would soon be getting Soviet MiGs.

Within a year or so, Indian engineers had started building, under licence from Moscow, further large numbers of MiG-21s.

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